Hagel backs US presence in Afghanistan

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says that he supports a NATO force in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Hagel made the comment in a meeting with US troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Hagel made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Saturday.

The US and Afghanistan are at loggerheads over a stalled security agreement that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign despite increasing US pressure. The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) would allow thousands of US and NATO troops to stay in the country after 2014.

The agreement permits between 12,000-14,000 troops, mostly American, to remain in the war-torn country. Currently, the US and its allies have over 80,000 troops, some 46,000 of them Americans, on the ground in Afghanistan.

Hagel acknowledged �œuncertainty about what happens next” for NATO forces after 2014 expressing hope that �œthe BSA will get signed.”

Hagel met the Afghan defense minister and the commanding general of the Afghan National Army, but he declined an invitation from the Afghan President to have dinner in his palace.

In the absence of the BSA, foreign troops currently present in Afghanistan have to leave at the end of next year.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has said that the White House has not instructed him to plan for a �œzero option” indicating that Washington has hopes that the security pact will be signed and its troops will be allowed to stay in Afghanistan after 2014.

Washington has been putting pressure on Karzai to sign the BSA while President Karzai says he wants his successor to decide about the fate of the BSA after the April 5 elections. Despite the pressures, Karzai has so far shown no sign of giving ground, neither has he provided any timeline to ink the pact, which was signed last month by a council of tribal elders, known as the Loya Jirga.

In November 28, after a US drone strike in southern Afghanistan killed a child and wounded two women, President Karzai issued a statement that condemned the attack saying it showed that �œAmerican forces do not respect the safety of the Afghan people in their homes … for years our people have been killed and their homes destroyed under the pretext of a war on terror.”

Karzai at one point accused the US of colluding with the Taliban militants.

At the heart of the disagreement is the US refusal to stop its raids on Afghan homes that have killed many civilians. Under the pact, American forces can enter Afghan homes as part of their operations. The sensitive issue of legal immunity for foreign soldiers is another stumbling block. According to the BSA, US soldiers won�™t be subject to Afghan law, rather, they will be under the US military jurisdiction.

The US war in Afghanistan has lasted for nearly 12 years now, becoming the longest- US war ever.

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Source: Press TV